A tip of the hat to champions of Tomcat Shootout

ASHLAND, Ky. – As the players prepared to go through the door leading into James A. Anderson Gymnasium for the championship game of the Tomcat Shootout simulation tournament, they came together in the area where the swimming pool used to be.

The image was like a boxing weigh-in with the competitors looking straight ahead with glassy stares. There was no emotion.

Even though they had a healthy respect for each other, neither side was going to blink first. Nobody looked down at their feet or looked away. It was intense, focused, game faces.

Friendships could wait until after the game. Too much was on the line to let down your guard. It was time to play basketball.

Hobie Rogers, wearing his spiffy maroon sports jacket, swung the door open and out came the 1960-64 Tomcats with Harold Sergent and Larry Conley pumping their fists into the air as the crowd roared its approval. A few seconds later came the 2015-20 Tomcats with the Villers brothers and others and their side of the gym leaped on its feet and began cheering madly.

I’m not sure, but I think Hobie was wiping tears from his eyes after both teams were completely onto the floor doing their drills.

Public address guru Chuck Rist was spinning the songs, first from the 60s and then from the 20s. He was having more fun than anybody.

It was a cultural happening.

The cheerleaders were different from the way they dressed to how they led cheers. The 60s girls were in bloused skirts to their ankles and a few of them had megaphones while the 20s cheerleaders wore short skirts that allowed them to flip their way around the gymnasium. The contrast was striking.

The 1960s was meeting the 21st Century.

One thing hadn’t changed: The game of basketball where the object was to score more points than your opponent.

Tipoff was 20 minutes away.

Jason Mays and Bob Wright, the respective coaches of the Tomcat decades simulation teams, stood together with arms crossed at midcourt exchanging pleasantries but not much else. They were talking, but both were being coy when it came to talking about their own teams. Everybody was looking for an edge.

There wasn’t a seat remaining in Anderson gym. In fact, the aisles were full of fans, too. It was a sea of maroon. “The biggest crowd I’ve seen in here and probably more than is allowed,” said AD Mark Swift, trying to count by hand the number in the gym. “I don’t want to have to tell anybody to leave, but we go by the rules here in Tomcat Nation.”

The fire marshal would have to look away on this night or risk a riot.

Only five minutes before tipoff and both teams left the floor for final instructions. The place was dripping with anticipation.

The 60s cheerleaders were getting their side to stand up and cheer and out from the stands came Joe Swartz, who owned the pharmacy on the corner of Central and 22nd Street and umpired countless Little League games in Ashland during the 1960s. He was the superfan of his era.

Before every home game, he would go to center court and give his famous cheer:

“When you’re up, you’re up

When you’re down, you’re down

When you’re up against the Tomcats

You’re upside down!”

Both sides seemed to receive a jolt of energy – as if they needed it – from big Joe’s cheer. The place was bumpin.

And in a surprise that nobody knew about, the Judds, Naomi and Wynonna, returned to Ashland to sing the national anthem. They also sang “My Old Kentucky Home” and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Now, at last, it was time to play.

Mays said before the game that Conley was his biggest concern and that “he would have to earn whatever points he gets.” He acknowledged, though, that the rest of these 60s Tomcats comprised one of the greatest teams he’d ever coached against with no exceptions.

“They shoot it well, rebound well, pass well, play defense well,” he said. “No wonder they were state champions. A great, great team and that’s not hype.”

Wright called the 2015-20 Tomcats the “ultimate team” and a scoring machine that was going to be hard to keep under 100.

“Great passers and shooters,” he said. “I love watching this team except when they’re playing my team.”

Neither team showed much sign of nervousness early with both teams able to score points rather easily. Up and down the floor they went at a frantic pace.

The message was sent early to Conley that this wasn’t going to be easy. Less than a minute into the game, Cole Villars plastered him into the mat on the wall when he went in for a layup. It wasn’t a dirty foul, but it was a hard one. Conley made both free throws, a harbinger of what was to come.

The biggest lead either team had in the first quarter was five points at 18-13 after Conley sank a pair of free throws. He scored a dozen points in the first quarter, but the 2015-20 Tomcats held a 29-28 advantage. Their biggest lead had been 27-23 on Ethan Hudson’s smooth 15-footer from the corner.

“We kind of got a feel for each other in that first quarter,” Conley said. “They were trying to be physical with me, but we loved that kind of game. Gene Smith, Dale Sexton and Harold Sergent never backed down from a good fight.”

The fouls began piling up for the 2015-20 Tomcats who were at a size disadvantage as well. It began to take a toll in the second quarter. During one stretch Conley completed back-to-back three-point plays when he was fouled while driving. That stretched the lead to double figures for the first time at 54-44.

“I don’t know how he made those two shots,” Mays said. “Selly (Ethan Sellars) went across his arms hard on both of those fouls. That was a big stretch for them.”

Devaunte Robinson connected on a 15-footer at the buzzer, but the 2015-20 Tomcats trailed 61-50 in a high-scoring first half. The 60s Tomcats were beating them at their own game.

“We had to make some changes,” Mays said. “They did a good job on Christian and Cole in the first half. Those guys had to get more touches. Devaunte kept us in the game. He was on tonight and we knew it. That was a good sign.”

True enough, Robinson’s shooting stroke was good. He scored 13 in the first half.

As for the strategy of hacking Conley, it wasn’t working well. Larry Legend had 25 points and it was only halftime.

“How do you stop that guy?” Mays asked rhetorically. “I sure don’t know.”

The 2015-20 Tomcats find their groove early in the second half, trimming the deficit to 66-62 within the first minute. Cole Villers and Robinson were getting hot. They regained the lead at 72-71 when Robinson swished a 3-pointer off a fancy pass from Colin Porter, who had his own battle with Sergent out front.

“Watching their little guard and Harold go at each other was the highlight for me,” Wright said. “That was the best matchup of the night.”

Porter’s scoring was limited but not his passing. He finished with 12 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Sergent scored 15 and had three assists. Their play seemed to negate each other.

Meanwhile, there was still no slowing down Conley, who had piled up 36 points by the time the third quarter was over. A three-point play from Ditto Sparks inside the last second put the 60s Tomcats back in front 85-82 going into the last 12 minutes.

The gym had a steady loudness throughout the three quarters and now it was almost shaking. Nobody was going anywhere and it was like a fuse had been lit waiting for the big explosion to come.

Statistic sheets were flying on the scorer’s table from where Dicky Martin was broadcasting with Dirk Payne. In the corner on the visiting side, a table was set up for Dick Martin and Pete Wonn, who were describing the action for the 60s Tomcats.

There was no cultural gap here. Both the Martins were berating officials over some “questionable calls” against their respective Tomcats. It just went to show what a good job they were doing.

Dirk, a 1962 graduate, was torn on what team he wanted to win. He never did decide but sure enjoyed the moment.

The game remained tight with the biggest margin being 92-85 for the 60s Cats after Jim McKenzie scored on an offensive rebound.

Following a timeout from Mays, the 20s Cats got their footing back. They pulled within 99-97 when Porter beat Sergent to the basket and then tied the game at 99 on Chase Villers’ 14-footer from in front of the foul line with 3:35 remaining.

Over the rest of the game, the score was tied at 101, 103, 105, 107 and 110 with big shots from a variety of players. The 60s Tomcats were leading 110-107 with 23 seconds remaining when Robinson lined up for a 3-pointer and was fouled while shooting it. His triple swished to tie it at 110 and he made the free throw, completing the four-point play, for his 30th point and a 111-110 advantage. Anderson gym was going bonkers with an almost maddening sound from both sides and only 13 seconds remained.

Wright called for a timeout and the noise level increased so much there was ringing in your ears.

“I’ve never heard anything like that,” Rist said. “You couldn’t even hear the music and it was up at the loudest level.” He had cued up Elvis Presley and “It’s Now or Never” but, unfortunately, nobody could hear it over the cheers.

The teams broke the huddle. This was going to be it. Thirteen seconds to victory for one of them.  They had given fans a show for the ages, the best game ever played in Anderson gym.

Mays had the 20s Tomcats pick them up man-to-man at halfcourt. Sergent was handling the ball and it zipped around the perimeter and eventually back to him where he launched a shot from the elbow over Porter’s outstretched hand. The shot spun out, but one hand rose above the rest. Guess who? It was Larry Legend, who tipped the ball back into the basket and the 60s Cats had done it! Final score: 112-111.

Within seconds of the tip-in, Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips” was playing over the sound system. Rist was a master.

Conley’s tip-in gave him 45 points. He was 13 of 20 from the field and 19 of 26 at the foul line in a command performance that will be remembered for ions.

“He was the difference,” Mays said. “We couldn’t stop him right to the end.”

When the game was over, the players from both sides embraced, talked and laughed with each other. They had earned respect.

“Those are the greatest players in Tomcat history,” said Cole Villers, who had 19 points and seven rebounds. “It was an honor to go against them. Larry Conley is like a magician out there. We had him boxed out on that last play but he found a way, and that’s what great players do. Incredible. We didn’t lose this game. They won it.”

Christian Villers and Hudson scored 16 apiece while Chase Villers and Porter scored 12 apiece.

Smith collected 12 points and 13 rebounds and Sparks scored 11 with five assists to back Conley’s amazing effort that also included 13 rebounds and five blocked shots.

The 2015-20 Tomcats were called for 32 fouls – seven players ended up with four fouls apiece – in a vain attempt to slow down the 60s Cats. The difference at the foul line was striking with the 60s Cats making 34 of 48 and the 20s Cats only 21 of 30.

“That is a big difference, but the officiating was great,” Mays said. “We put them on the line with a lot of fouls.”

“By gawd, the fouls weren’t even,” screamed Dicky Martin. “Let’s call it what it is: We got took!”

(Nobody else agreed with him, but it wouldn’t be real if Dicky didn’t make that comparison.)

Wright said it was one of the greatest wins of his career and maybe the best game he could remember too.

“Those 20s Cats are champions too,” he said. “I felt like I was going against a coaching chess master. Coach Mays is one of the best I’ve ever seen. We just got the last touch on the ball, literally. I wouldn’t want to figure out a way to stop Larry Conley either. I’m not sure it’s possible.”

Meanwhile, “Respect” from Aretha Franklin was blaring over the gym’s sound system as the players and fans started filing out.

It seemed fitting.

Tomcat Shootout All-Tournament

Larry Conley (MVP), 1960-64

Harold Sergent, 1960-64

Gene Smith, 1960-64

Christian Villers, 2015-2020

Cole Villers, 2015-2020

Colin Porter, 2015-2020

Mark Surgalski, 2000-2004

Arliss Beach, 2000-2004

Larry Castle, 1955-1959

Jeff Tipton, 1980-1984

Ronnie Griffith, 1970-1974

Marty Thomas, 1990-1994

2015-2020 TOMCATS (111) – Porter 4-9 4-4 12, Robinson 9-17 7-9 30, Cole Villers 7-19 5-9 18, Chase Villers 6-14 0-0 12, Hudson 7-17 2-4 16, Christian Villers 6-13 3-4 16, Miller 0-6 0-0 0, Sellars 2-4 0-0 4, Bradley 1-2 0-0 2, Mays 0-1 0-0 0. FG: 42-102. FT: 21-30. 3FG: 6-13 (Porter 0-3, Robinson 5-6, chase Villars 0-1, Christian Villars 1-2, Sellars 0-1). Rebounds: 50 (Porter 7, Robinson 2, Cole Villars 7, Chase Villars 7, Chrsitian Villars 2, Miller 8, Sellars 6, Bradley 7). Assists: 26 (Porter 11, Cole Villars 4, Chase Villars 5, Hudson 4, Miller 1, Sellars 1). PF: 32. Turnovers: 17.

1960-64 TOMCATS (112) – Sparks 4-7 3-3 11, Sergent 6-9 2-2 15, Hilton 2-13 5-9 9, Smith 6-14 0-0 12, Conley 13-20 19-26 45, Cram 1-7 1-2 4, McKenzie 2-3 1-2 5, Beam 0-5 2-2 2, Sexton 2-3 1-2 5, Wright 2-7 0-0 4. FG: 38-88. FT: 34-48. 3FG: 2-3 (Sergent 1-1, Hilton 0-1, Cram 1-1). Rebounds: 65 (Sparks 2, Sergent 1, Hilton 7, Conley 13, Smith 13, Cram 6, McKenzie 7, Beam 4, Sexton 5, Wright 7). Assists: 16 (Sparks 5, Sergent 3, Hilton 1, Smith 2, Conley 1, Cram 3, Beam 1). PF: 27. Turnovers: 20.

2015-2020 TOMCATS     29       21       31      29          –          111

1960-1964 TOMCATS     28         33     24      27          –          112

From ‘Now or Never’ to ‘Uptown Funk,’ it’s going to be an epic championship game

ASHLAND, Ky. – Around town they were referring to it as Larry’s Legends against The Kids.

The final two teams of the Tomcat Shootout simulation tournament were playing for a championship and everybody was talking about it.

Jason Mays, the coach of the 2015-20 Tomcats, was losing sleep over it. He’d been up all night watching 16 mm video of Larry Conley dominating team after team for the 1960-64 Tomcats.

Nobody had stopped him yet and Mays wasn’t sure they could either.

Dicky Martin was fired up for this one.

“We have to figure out something else,” he said. “Larry is going to get his, but we have to make it hard on him. We have a lot of fouls to give and we’re going to use them. He may be shooting a lot of free throws.”

Even though the 2015-20 Tomcats were known for their high-scoring offense, it was the defense that predicated everything.

“We win with defense,” Mays said. “That’s where it starts.”

On the other bench, coach Bob Wright was devising a strategy to limit the 3-point looks of the 2015-20 Tomcats and deciding how to defend the Villers’ brothers. Christian, Chase and Cole had become a dominating force.

“It’s like looking at three clones the way those guys can shoot,” Wright said. “This game might be first one to 120 wins!”

On the eve of the championship game, everybody was looking for tickets. It was already a sellout at James A. Anderson Gymnasium. They brought a closed circuit television for the lobby where chairs were set up so another 800 could at least see it that way.

Giovanni’s on Blackburn Avenue was not only bringing the game in via My Town TV, but also piped in Dicky Martin and his father’s call of the game. Dicky was on the FM signal and his father, Dick Martin, was going to be on the AM signal. Headphones at the tables allowed guests to listen to either call.

People were choosing sides and some bets were going down from what insiders were saying.

This game had all the trappings and it may have been the biggest sporting event Ashland had ever witnessed.

Young and old, they all wanted to watch this game unfold.

The players arrived at the gym a couple of hours early and it was already packed. Cathy Goble was lecturing her cheerleaders (making sure they stayed off the playing floor) and Marie Hamm was getting her cheerleaders together. There was even a bit of competition between the squads although they tried not to show it.

Dicky and his father were testing the broadcasting equipment and the fans from both sides were already finding their seats. They brought signs, noise-makers and a lot of Tomcat spirit.

Chuck Rist was lining up a song list – one for the 1960s and one for today’s songs. It was going to be a nice collection. Nobody was anymore prepared or jacked up than him.

Well, maybe the Martins, who were practically giddy tuning their radio dials to make sure everything was going to work correctly. Pete Wonn was with Dick Martin and Dirk Payne with Dicky. It was a sight to behold!

Donna Childers Suttle loves her Tomcats, but she had chosen who she was rooting for just the same. It was the 2015-2020 Tomcats.

“I just love those boys!” she said.

Dave Kouns and Scott Walter were trying to talk AD Mark Swift into letting them bring extra hot dogs and popcorn into the gym (they had bottles of water in their hoodie pockets). There was a good-faith negotiating and it looked like Swift was going to allow it because of the superfan status of Kouns and Walter.

“We don’t want to miss a second of this game,” Walter said.

The teams were in their respective locker rooms and it was sounding like thunder in the gym. Everybody was saying it had never been louder in Anderson gym. They were about to blow the lid off the place.

Rist had the music blaring with the volume on number 9 of 10. First it was “It’s Now or Never” from Elvis Presley and then to “Uptown Funk” with Bruno Mars, and a lot more to come. The atmosphere was electric and it was still 30 minutes before tipoff … Larry’s Legends vs. The Kids.

Come back Friday evening for the results.

41 points in a quarter? Shooting stars in second semifinal of Tomcat Shootout

ASHLAND, Ky. – Was this basketball or a track meet?

An entertaining and high-flying opening quarter got the second semifinal of the Tomcat Shootout simulation tournament off to a breathtaking start Thursday.

The free-wheeling 2015-2020 Tomcats put 41 points on the board with a shooting exhibition that dropped jaws throughout James A. Anderson Gymnasium while the 2000-2004 Tomcats nearly matched them basket for basket with 34 points.

The basketball hardly ever hit the floor with both teams throwing long passes over the defense and making shots that seemed impossible. About the only thing that slowed the game down were all the swishes in the scoring-fest, hanging the basketball up in the net to prevent another over-the-top pass.

When the smoke cleared through an already fatigued 2000-2004 Tomcat team was gasping for breath. They had played a grueling game against the 1980-84 Tomcats just two days ago. In the end, they couldn’t keep up the pace and the 2015-20 Tomcats – making 14 of 30 3-pointers and running it up the floor at every opportunity – rolled to a 118-103 victory to move into the championship game against the 1960-64 Tomcats at Anderson gym on Friday night.

“You try having Jeff Tipton lean on you for 48 minutes,” said 2000-04 Tomcats star Mark Surgalski. “I’d like to say he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother, but I’d be lying. He is heavy and he’s my brother. He’s also the best big man I’ve ever gone against.”

Surgalski had his legs early, scoring 16 of his 26 points in the first 12 minutes. But they were able to shut him down for the remainder of the game, holding him to 10 points by using three different players on him.

“Shutting down big Mark was something we knew was going to be nearly impossible,” said 2015-20 Tomcats coach Jason Mays. “And we really didn’t. I mean, he scored 26 points. But for three quarters to hold him to 10 points was something else and probably won the game for us. Cole, Nick (Miller) and Justin (Bradley) kept rotating on him and they had a lot of help. We also limited Arliss, and Justin and Huddy (Ethan Hudson) took turns on him.”

The rest of the script was much the same as always for the 2015-20. The Villers brothers combined for 51 points, the 3-pointers were falling and they had 27 assists on 43 baskets led by point guard Colin Porter’s 10 dimes.

“Why change a good thing?” said Mays. “That’s been our formula for success along with great defense. We gave up 103 points but against that club, I’ll take it. I knew we needed more than 100 to beat them.”

Six players scored in double figures led by Christian Villers with 18, including 13 in the opening quarter. Chase Villers scored 17, Cole Villers 16 and 10 rebounds, Bradley 15 points and nine rebounds, Porter with 14 points and Ethan Hudson with 11 points and seven rebounds.

“They have some great balance and the Villers boys are too much for anybody,” said 2000-04 coach Mike Flynn. “We were playing with dead legs. The quarterfinal game took every ounce of energy we had inside us. The extra day of rest (for the 2015-20 Tomcats) made a big difference. I’d like for us to have had that on our side.”

The score was 60-54 at halftime with both teams firing up shots from everybody. The 2000-04 Tomcats had the lead at 50-48 but was outscored 12-4 the remainder of the half.

“Big swing there,” Mays said. “We were humming along  and then kind of fell apart for a few minutes. We bounced back in the last three minutes and regained the lead. I think that took a lot out of them mentally.”

It showed when the second half started. A decisive third quarter saw the 2015-20 Tomcats keep up the scoring with 28 points while holding the 2000-04 Tomcats to 19 points.

Arliss Beach and Zack Davis scored 13 apiece and Matt Johnson had 12 points. Jeremy Howell collected eight points and eight assists for the 2000-04 Tomcats.

“We had a good run,” Flynn said. “Those younger kids can play the game. It’ll be interesting to see how they do against the Legends. I wouldn’t count them out.”

The largest lead of the game was 19 points for the 2015-20 Tomcats. A 12-0 flurry led to the huge lead that was too much for the 2015-20 Tomcats to overcome.

“Mark knows all our kids so well,” Mays said. “I’m sure he’s not happy about losing to us. He’s a warrior out there. Tipton and those 80s guys worked him over pretty good. I saw that game. It was physical.”

The slick-passing 20s Tomcats were so good they even tongue-tied Dicky Martin’s descriptions over the air on several occasions.

“By gawd, I love both these teams and hated to see either one of them lose,” he said. “But that championship game is going to be something to watch.”

Fans will have the option of listening to Dick Martin – voice of the 60s Tomcats – or his son Dicky Martin, voice of the 2015-20 Tomcats.

2015-2020 TOMCATS (118) – Christian Villers 8-16 0-3 18, Chase Villers 6-14 1-1 17, Bradley 7-8 0-2 15, Cole Villers 6-12 3-3 16, Hudson 4-4 3-4 11, Miller 2-5 0-0 5, Sellars 2-4 2-2 8, Robinson 3-4 1-3 7, Porter 3-5 6-6 14, Mays 1-5 2-2 5. FG: 43-79. FT: 18-26. 3FG: 14-30 (Christian Villers 2-3, Chase Villers 4-9, Bradley 1-3, Cole Villers 1-3, Miller 1-2, Sellars 2-3, Porter 2-3, Mays 1-4). Rebounds: 42 (Christian Villers 6, Chase Villers 2, Bradley 9, Cole Villers 10, Hudson 7, Miller 2, Sellers 3, Robinson 1, Porter 1, Mays 1). Assists: 27 (Christian Villers 1, Chase Villers 1, Bradley 2, Cole Villers 7, Hudson 2, Miller3, Robinson 1, Porter 10). PF: 18. Turnovers: 9.

2000-2004 TOMCATS (103) – Howell 3-11 0-0 8, J.Cook 3-7 3-3 9, Surgalkski 10-19 2-2 26, Howard 4-6 0-0 8, Johnson 5-11 2-2 12, Davis 6-12 0-0 13, Cooksey 3-6 2-3 8, C.Cook 1-3 0-0 3, Salyers 1-4 0-0 3. FG: 40-89. FT: 13-14. 3FG: 10-26 (Howell 2-7, J.Cook 0-3, Surgalski 4-7, Davis 1-1, Cooksey 0-1, Beach 1-4, C.Cook 1-1, Salyers 1-2). Rebounds: 44 (Howell 4, J.Cook 3, Surgalski 9, Howard 7, M.Johnson 5, Davis 4, Cooksey 3, Beach 3, C.Cook 3, Salyers 2). Assists: 26 (Howell 8, Surgalski 3, Howard 3, M.Johnson 1, Davis 3, Cooksey 1, Beach 6, C.Cook 1). PF: 21. Turnovers: 17.

2015-2020 TOMCATS     41       19       28        30         –         118

2000-2004 TOMCATS     34       20       19        30         –        103

Larry Legend, Wright’s fright and cheerleader controversy in semifinals

ASHLAND, Ky. – The well-rested 1960-64 Ashland Tomcat All-Stars threw an early haymaker at the 1970-74 Cats in the semifinals of the Tomcat Shootout simulation tournament Wednesday night.

They hit them right between the eyes by scoring 34 points in the opening quarter. Larry Conley scored a dozen himself and the 60-64 Cats led by 20 points with 1:23 to play in the first quarter.

It was a knockdown, but not a knockout.

The 70-74 Tomcats, displaying the grit that brought them to victories over the 75-79 Tomcats and the 90-94 Tomcats just to reach the semifinals, got up off the deck and began fighting back.

They played dead even in the second quarter but still trailed by 16 at intermission. The 70-74 Cats had cut the deficit under double figures once at 39-30 when Dwayne Farrow drilled a 15-footer but the lead grew back to 16.

“We were on the verge of getting blown out of this old gym,” said 70-74 Tomcats coach Steve Gilmore. “When they made it 32-12, I was worried. But we got it together a little bit, outscored them 6-2 the rest of the quarter, and kind of righted the ship. Looking in their eyes after a timeout when they went up 20, I saw the fire still burning.”

They began chipping away but it was tough against Larry and the Legends, the tournament favorite. Their balanced attack was hard to beat. Conley cooled off but still ended up just shy of a triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

“Larry is the best, there’s no two ways about it,” Gilmore said. “But Ronnie (Griffith) did a good job on him after they stunned us early. We had a hard time finding him on the box out. He killed us on the offensive boards.”

Johnny Mullins was taxed with slowing down Harold Sergent and he limited him to 11 points. He got up in Sergent enough to frustrate the ’61 great guard.

“Mullins is tough,” Sergent said. “Tough as I’ve seen.”

When the second half started, something changed. The 70-74 Tomcats showed a new life and some of the toughness that had carried them in the first two series. They also regained some confidence.

“They wouldn’t go away,” said 60-64 Tomcat coach Bob Wright. “We were a couple of buckets from putting them away in that first quarter and then we gave them some breathing room with a lazy second quarter.”

Halfway through the third quarter the 70-74 Tomcats had pulled within 69-64 when Chuck Williams scored on a putback. Conley came back and was fouled, making one of two free throws, to bring the score to 70-64. That would be the biggest lead for either team the rest of the game, matched again at 78-72 on Parkie Beam’s driving layup with 10:54 to play in the fourth quarter (remember, we play 12-minute quarters).

The 70-74 Tomcats were matching the 60-64 Tomcats basket for basket and it was going to be a photo-finish. Griffith finished with a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Mullins scored 15. Dale Lynch had 12 points and four assists and Williams, Steve Dodd and Danny Evans added 10 points apiece.

“That’s how we’ve advanced in this tournament,” Gilmore said. “We have toughness, defense and balance.”

Farrow made two free throws to complete a 7-1 run that tied the game at 79 with 8:01 remaining and David Smith followed with a long jumper that put the 70-74 Tomcats in front 81-79. It was their first lead since early in the first quarter.

The fans at the old Ashland High School gym started getting nervous about that time. The roof was about to blow off the place with the screaming 70s fans going absolutely bonkers.

Wright was coming unhinged on the bench. He called a timeout and got into the faces of the 60-64 Tomcats, holding nothing back. Parents sitting behind the bench held their hands over the ears of their children. This was no longer a PG-rated event.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Coach so mad,” Conley said. “I thought we were going to start running these steps right then. He challenged us, told us to wake up and a lot worse. I’m sure everybody in the gym could hear him.”

The battle was on. When the 60-64 Tomcats broke the huddle, they immediately turned the ball over on the baseline. They complained that one of the cheerleaders from the 70-74 team had stepped onto the floor and tripped Steve Cram (accidentally) during a cheer. Wright came storming off the bench to complain but was quickly grabbed by Conley, who pulled him back to the bench as the referees gave them an icy stare.

“He was so hot, I’m not sure what was going to happen,” Conley said. “I knew we didn’t want a technical foul there. It was going to be tough enough.

Meanwhile, from the Ashland stands, out came Cathy Goble to defend her cheerleaders and she may have been screaming louder than Wright, and about as much PG-13. “Stay away from my girls!” she screamed. There was a lot of confusion but, when order was restored, they gave the ball to the 70-74 Tomcats who rushed it down the floor, missed a rushed jumper, but Jeff Cooksey was there for the garbage basket to make it 83-79.

Cooksey, the ultimate garbage man, had eight points and 12 rebounds. “He is always around the ball, always scrapping,” said Evans.

The 60-64 Tomcats began to recover behind Gene Smith, who ignited an 8-2 run that put them ahead 87-85 before Williams tied it on an offensive rebound.

“We gave up way too many offensive rebounds,” Wright said afterward. “My teams don’t do that.”

Conley drove down the middle and finger-rolled in a basket to put the 60-64 Tomcats ahead 89-87 and then the lead grew to 97-93 with a pair of Conley free throws with 29 seconds remaining. Griffith was fouled on a drive, making an acrobatic shot and then sank the free throw to bring it to 97-96 with 17 seconds to play.

Lynch went for a steal against Ditto Sparks and fouled him. Sparks made two free throws at the 14-second mark to bring the lead to 99-96.

Gilmore called timeout and set up a play to free either Evans or Griffith for a 3-point shot that could have forced overtime. The 60-64 Tomcats were ready with Conley smothering Griffith and Sergent switched to Evans. The ball ended up in Mullins’ hands and he took two dribbles back to get behind the 3-point line, looked down to make sure his feet were OK, and fired it up. It was on target but rattled around the rim three times before kicking out and Sparks rebounded. He was immediately fouled with four seconds to play.

Sparks, who finished with 16 points, made both free throws to set the final score at 101-96.

“Shew! That was a battle,” Wright said. “Our guys showed some toughness. They responded to a good ‘ol butt-chewing. I apologized to those parents who were sitting behind the bench. I went out of my mind after that poor playing.”

The 60-64 Tomcats showed balance with Steve Cram scoring 18, Gene Smith 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Conley’s 27 points.

“I tell you what,” Conley said, “those 70s guys can play. They never gave up.”

1970-74 TOMCATS (96) – Lynch 4-12 2-2 12, Mullins 7-19 1-1 15, Williams 4-10 2-2 10, Cooksey 4-8 0-0 8, Griffith 6-10 6-7 18, Dodd 4-5 2-2 10, Farrow 1-3 2-2 4, Evans 4-7 2-3 10, Smith 1-4 0-1 2, Hixson 3-7 1-4 7. FG: 38-85. FT: 18-24. 3FG: 2-8 (Lynch 2-5, Mullins 0-3). Rebounds: 51 (Lynch 4, Mullins 4, Williams 5, Cooksey 12, Griffith 10, Dodd 8, Farrow 2, Evans 1, Smith 4, Hixson 1). Assists: 22 (Lynch 4, Mullins 2, Williams 3, Cooksey 4, Griffith 3, Farrow 4, Hixson 1, Smith 1). PF: 26. Turnovers: 24.

1960-64 TOMCATS (101) – Sergent 3-8 5-6 11, Sparks 5-17 5-6 16, Cram 9-21 0-0 18, Conley 10-16 7-9 27, Smith 4-8 4=8 12, Beam 1-3 2-2 4, Hilton 2-4 0-0 4, Sexton 2-6 1-2 5, McKenzie 1-1 0-0 2, Wright 1-2 0-0 2. FG: 38-85. FT: 24-33. 3FG: 1-8 (Sergent0-2, Sparks 1-4, Cram 0-2). Rebounds: 49 (Sergent 5, Sparks 2, Cram 7, Conley 10, Smith 14, Beam 2, Hilton 7, Sexton 1, Wright 1). Assists: 18 (Sergent 2, Sparks 2, Cram 2, Conley 9, Smith 1, Hilton 1, Sexton 1). PF: 27. Turnovers: 19.

1970-74 TOMCATS       18       21       31       26          –            96

1960-64 TOMCATS       34       21       19       27          –           101